This past November, Lt Gen B. Chance Saltzman from the U.S. Space Force, sat down with General Kevin P. Chilton (Ret) for a special Mitchell Institute Spacepower Forum.
As the Chief Operations Officer, Lt Gen Saltzman has overall responsibility for operations, intelligence, sustainment, cyber, and nuclear operations of the U.S. Space Force. Prior to his current role, he most recently served as the Deputy Commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Central Command, and Deputy Combined Force Air Component Commander of U.S. Central Command, Southwest Asia.
During the event, Lt Gen Saltzman reflected on the Space Force’s second year accomplishments, examined how the U.S. should address current adversarial efforts in the space domain, and discussed why the U.S. government must begin leveraging commercial satellite architectures and capabilities for its military missions.
Two years of accomplishments
On December 20, 2021, the U.S. Space Force celebrated its second birthday, and to begin the forum, Lt Gen Saltzman opened with an enthusiastic discussion about the major accomplishments Space Force made in its two years of operations.
He prefaced the discussion by setting the stage and reminding the audience that 2021 witnessed a lot of adversarial activity in the space domain. He explained that U.S. adversaries took worryingly bold actions in space this past year, specifically referring to Russia’s testing of anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles and China’s hypersonic missile test. “These are dynamic times in the space security environment, so we need the Space Force to be going fast,” said Saltzman.
And, indeed, 2021 was a fast-growing year for Space Force, beginning with its intelligence directorate’s induction as the 18th member of the intelligence community (IC).
“Leah Lauderback is the head of our intelligence community apparatus here and she’s just doing a fantastic job,” said Lt Gen Saltzman. “And the level of support that I’m able to give to the Pentagon based on that foundational intelligence that’s focused on space threats has just been remarkable.”
Lt Gen Saltzman also highlighted that in 2021 the Secretary of the U.S. Air Force signed an organizational change request, establishing the first service components of the Space Force’s combatant commands in Europe, the Pacific, the Middle East, and South Korea.
Last year, Space Force also laid down the groundwork for nearly 700 interservice transfers, which Saltzman said is much more challenging than one would assume. “While you think they just raise their hand, swear the oath to the Space Force, and change uniforms, as you all know it’s a little more complicated than that.” Lt Gen Saltzman explained that ensuring seamless interservice transitions that don’t create any adverse effects on new Guardians has been a lot of work, which he is extremely proud of.
This growth and the major accomplishments couldn’t come at a better time, as America’s adversaries become increasingly active and bold in space.
Deterring the adversary
During the discussion, Lt Gen Saltzman highlighted some of the recent adversarial efforts that occurred in the space domain in 2021, specifically Russia’s successful ASAT missile test and the implications the test has on the country’s space posture.
Lt Gen Saltzman declared that the ASAT test was an extremely “irresponsible” and “hazardous” act, and that the space debris that resulted from Russia destroying its defunct, Soviet-era satellite will pose kinetic threats for years to come.
“We are now spending a tremendous amount of our time, energy, and capacity to characterize the nature of that debris field,” explained Lt Gen Saltzman. “Because at a minimum, we know that it poses a hazard to the astronauts on the ISS. And it’s one of our basic responsibilities to make sure that we characterize all of the objects that are on orbit, to protect not just humankind up there on the ISS, but all of these very expensive, exquisite satellites that we spend blood, sweat, tears, energy, and national treasure to put into orbit and perform some remarkable services for us.”
In order to establish stability and a framework of accountability in the domain, Lt Gen Saltzman referred to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s tenants on responsible behavior in space as one of the gold standards that should be followed in order to deter this type of dangerous behavior.
“If it’s the Wild Wild West out there in space, then it’s hard to hold people responsible for any kind of behavior, because you haven’t really defined what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” explained Saltzman. “I don’t think we should underestimate how important setting the framework for what responsible behavior in space looks like.”
Lt Gen Saltzman explained that another component of deterrence would be ensuring that the U.S. has the capability and the capacity from the ground – and space – to rapidly characterize new space debris fields.
“Although this one was an ASAT test, there are other times when two objects just run into each other and create debris field,” explained Lt Gen Saltzman. “Debris generating events can occur by accident as much as it can occur deliberately. And we have to have that capacity to rapidly characterize, figure out where those orbits are, and then start doing projections about potential hazards those new objects that are created on orbit could cause to manned spaceflight, as well as other capabilities.”
Leveraging commercial space
When it pertains to the capabilities that the U.S. Space Force will need in the future, Lt Gen Saltzman explained that satellite architecture currently in space is not prepared and readied for combat capability and capacity.
“The architecture that we have was largely designed for a benign environment,” said Lt Gen Saltzman. “And we just didn’t talk about combat attributes or combat attrition. We didn’t talk about the kinds of adversarial behavior that we would have to account for with the Force design.”
Lt Gen Saltzman explained that the original goal of the U.S.’ current space and satellite architecture was originally focused on “getting the most out of the capabilities as possible,” not on being able to support a warfighting architecture.
According to Lt Gen Saltzman, in order to get the warfighting capabilities necessary to protect U.S. assets from space, there must be a shift in how the U.S. military acquires the required capabilities and functions. And one solution that he believes could help remedy this problem is the commercial space industry.
Lt Gen Saltzman explained that there is currently a commercial space boom happening around the world, and that the U.S. government needs to take more advantage of the services and capabilities industry can provide to the military.
“With the technology that’s being employed, I think we’re going to be able to leverage commercial capabilities to accomplish a subset of our missions,” explained Lt Gen Saltzman. “And as we distribute those up, not only does it free up resources for us, but it creates a more resilient architecture because of the number of different places and pathways where we can get the information we need.”
Lt Gen Saltzman explained that when it comes to the grand design of the Space Force, it’s not just what the branch builds, but also what the branch buys to ensure it has the necessary resources at the right time and space. And Lt Gen Saltzman did admit that it may take time to flesh out all these aspects of the Force’s design.
“Some of these things take a while to get on orbit and put in place,” said Lt Gen Saltzman. “But, you know, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. That’s the path of the journey we’re on.”
Click the video below to watch the Spacepower Forum in its entirety.